Will a Tone-Gard™ Help My Mandolin?

I have yet to hear a mandolin that doesn’t benefit from the Gard. Plus the added benefits of quicker “wake-up” of the instrument, and the protection of the back from zippers, buttons, belt buckles, and other hazards.

How Did You Come Up With the Tone-Gard™?

My first “good” mandolin was a Japanese F-5 copy. I thought it was OK until I played a real hand-made instrument. Then I realized mine didn’t cut it in volume and tone. But I did notice that when I sat down it didn’t sound so bad. After some experimentation I realized that, just like a fiddle, the vibration of the BACK of the mandolin helps produce sound. I also noticed that in all the old pictures of Mr. Lloyd Loar, who was a classical mandolinist, he is sitting. I don’t think he anticipated that people would stand and play, so that vibration of the back would be muffled against the body. The Tone-Gard is my solution to the deadening of the sound caused by contact with the human abdomen.

Will a Tone-Gard™ Fit My Instrument?

SunriseGards (7-ray design) and DecoGards fit almost any mandolin based on the classic Gibson carved-back mandolins, such as F5s and A5s, approx. 9-7/8″ across the back (+/- 1/16″). Most independent luthiers’ designs are based upon those body dimensions, including Gilchrist, Stiver, Givens, Summit, Lewis, Woods, and all the Japanese and Korean mandolins.

VintageGards (6-ray design) are for mandolins that are 10-3/16″ across the back, such as old round-hole Gibsons, Weber Absarokas, some of the other Webers (including some F models) some Hillburns, Newsons, etc. If you have one of these instruments, please get the Vintage, and don’t try to bend out the arms of a Sunrise or Deco to force a fit. It really won't work.

  • Custom Gards. Sorry but effective October 2018 custom sizes and shapes are no longer available. Due to expansion of the Tone-Gard dealer network, the line of standard Tone-Gards, and the resultant work load, I'm suspending custom commissions. I have to be honest with myself and my customers, as the present open-ended timeline is not functional for anybody. I am truly sorry to have to do this. I have custom-made Gards for radiused Rigel mandolins, standard Gibson mandolas, Martin dreadnaught guitars, Martin mandolins, flat-back mandolins such as the Trinity College, new styles of Weber, other guitar sizes and shapes (Maccaferi/Selmer, L-5, Jumbo, 00, 000, etc.), banjo, uke, cittern, bouzouki, tres, cuatro, bajo sexto, vihuela, domra, balalaika, bandura, tambura, etc., using a TRACING of your instrument.

Will a Tone-Gard™ Mar the Finish?

As a mandolin player and user #1, I’ve tried to make the Gard as mando-friendly as possible, but I’m not a millionaire or an idiot. I don’t “guarantee” the Gard for anything except workmanship, and that’s why it’s very affordable. It is the cheapest and quickest way to improve the sound, as well as protect the back. As long as the pads are maintained, you can expect your mandolin back to look like the day you bought it, possibly with some very minor scuffing where the upper pads are, which is easily rubbed out. I can say this because I’ve had a Gard on my mandolin since 1987. It’s had lots of hours, gigs, and miles on it since then.

The exception is French-polished mandolins. I have yet to come up with something that won’t mark an instrument that, when the owner played it without a Gard, left a perfect imprint of his shirt on the back of the mandolin. In these instances, Gards should decrease the damage to the back, compared to no protection at all, but the Gard may leave minor marks. Whatcha gonna do?

Is a Tone-Gard™ Hard to Install?

Not at all. Just lay the instrument top-down, and bend the arms at the waist and tail of the Gard until the arms hold it snugly centered on the instrument. Ready to go!

Can a Tone-Gard™ Stay on All the Time, even in the Case?

Yes, in almost all cases, including Calton cases. The Gard only adds about 3/8″ to 1/2″ to the overall depth of the instrument. You should leave the Gard on all the time, for the same reason as in the next answer.

Can I Use One Tone-Gard™ on Several Different Instruments?

I really do NOT recommend it. I’m not trying to sell more Gards; it’s a matter of metal fatigue. If you keep taking the Gard on and off, over time the spring arms will fatigue and eventually break. I do not warranty such use. There are Gards that have been in service since 1986 with no problem, but they stayed on one instrument.

What Else Do I Like?

  • Michael Lewis (Grass Valley, CA) Want a beautiful mandolin, guitar, or arch-top guitar? Go see this guy in Grass Valley. Without a doubt, he makes some of the finest instruments and inlay work around. Michael came up with the name “Tone-Gard,” encouraged me to produce the Gard for others, and for years was the only reseller. What a guy!

  • Mandolin Cafe (online) is the central link in the mando world, for me anyway, always changing and inspiring. My favorite spot for tab! You’ll find discussion of the Tone-Gard there too.

  • Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse (Berkeley, CA) is a music venue operated by the Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to promoting public awareness and understanding of traditional music. Too bad I live several hours’ drive away.

  • Players Vintage Instruments (Inverness, CA) sells new and used instruments. This guy’s got everything, and good prices besides.

  • Rigel Mandolins (Cambridge, VT) Looking for something different? Don’t want to be part of the herd? These guys have come up with a mandolin that is truly original-looking, but without sacrificing tone and volume. These instruments require a custom Gard.